Monday, September 10, 2018

Craig Chats~ Indie Issue

Hey everyone—

Sorry I haven’t done one of these little rambles in a while. I had a flood, lost half of my belongings, ate some pie, got into buying a house—it’s a lot, but I’m back.

Now, I was going to come back with some lighthearted tale from the yonder years of bukkake, however, upon reflection (and a FB post I came across the other day) I wanted to tackle something that I think many indie authors struggle to navigate—

Reader expectations and the MM genre (including warnings, tropes, and everything else you’ll find on your newsfeed whenever someone takes issue with a new release)

So, the thread in question went a little something like this: Reader A was upset because she’d recently purchased an “MM” book that had a threesome in it and insisted the author should’ve put a warning about this in the blurb—Reader A even went as far as to say it was inconsiderate not to and that she’s been put off reading future work by the author because of this.

To my surprise, many agreed with this sentiment.

Reader B then came along and explained that threesomes aren’t something that need warnings, and that only “triggering” topics such as suicide, rape, drugs, etc, should have warnings (for the record, this is also closer to my opinion on the matter) Nevertheless, Reader A was steadfast in her opinion on the subject, and there were many who agreed with her.

This kind of…baffled me.

I’m not hating on Reader A for not wanting a threesome in her book…but a warning is usually reserved for a topic that can negatively impact the reader—and when I say negatively impact them, I mean something beyond “I don’t like it in my books.” However, fiction (especially MM) is so broad that simply labelling your book with the MM sticker doesn’t give much of an idea what’s inside of it these days, and I think that’s where some of the confusion on what is and isn’t allowed comes in.

Naturally, I asked for some other opinions (I asked one person, it was a busy day, I had a pizza in the oven) and she stated “if I had to put a warning for everything that offends someone at the front of my book, the warning page would be as long as the book.”

This is something that I see happen a lot in the “MM” space. My newsfeed is constantly flooded with disgruntled readers who didn’t get what they wanted from a book—be it a cliffhanger ending, a sudden twist in the plot, or anything other than vanilla sex between two men, and in the midst of all these rants, there is always this sentence—

The author should’ve warned me.

But should they? I can’t count how many traditionally published books I have on my shelf that involve extreme violence, gory descriptions, drug use, and graphic sex, and do it all with very little indication of just how dark things might get in the blurb—and no warning page either. And this has never bothered me.

There is no warning page at the start of A Song of Ice and Fire. Hell, there’s no warning at the start of the later Harry Potter books and you know they broke thousands of hearts. After all, do you think certain deaths or moments in those series would’ve been as impactful if you were warned prior? Of course not.

I don’t want to know who lives or dies before I go into a movie. I don’t want to know who ends up with who at the end of a season before starting it. And I don’t want to know if I’m about to stumble onto a threesome before we move along to the next part of the story.

But I digress, and regardless of my personal opinion on the subject, I do see where the other side are coming from, and I think a lot of these polarizing views come from everyone having their own definition of what MM is, and more importantly, what is expected from indie authors.

I’ll start with the latter.

It’s no secret that indie authors and their readers have a very different relationship than those who use traditional publishing methods. We’re very present on social media—most of us (myself included) choosing to be our authentic selves, letting readers into our lives through our cameras and comments, and forming friendships with most of the people we interact with. This way of mixing our business and personal lives is probably why drama is amplified so much in this space—because it’s personal, and it’s also why reader complaints are rarely seen as criticism on our work and more like personal attacks on who we are.

Simply put—Indie authors are expected to be transparent, and whenever we’re not (personally or professionally) readers often end up feeling like they’ve been taken for a ride… Maybe the demand for warnings stems from this? I’m honestly not sure, and I’m as equally unsure about the other reason I think this happens—

What the hell is MM anyway?

MM feels more like a fandom than a genre. In the way fandoms have passionate fans that want everything to be a certain way for it to be “true” to the thing they’re fans of, MM has readers that have certain expectations of what to find in every MM book for it to be MM.

I have seen people clarify that they’re next book is a “gay romance” and not an “MM” and for people to understand that these things are entirely different entities.

MM has no wiki page. No set definition. No presence outside of the space the community has created for it. There is no “MM” genre according to Amazon’s labelling, yet it obviously exists—but what is it? If there’s a distinction between MM and Gay Romance, why is that? And if there’s certain criteria that have to be met for your book to be an MM—and if deviating from that criteria requires you warning readers prior—then what are the criteria?

I’m happy admitting that I have no idea what MM is, despite writing it, reading it, and being a part of the community that encompasses it. To some, MM seems to be the act of two men fucking, be it in a zombie apocalypse or during lunch at the office, but to others it appears to be more of a checklist, with boxes that MUST be ticked off as you reach the definitive happy ending with absolutely no dangling threads.

Honestly, I have no answers (or way to end this article with a satisfying conclusion) and, although I’m entirely against warnings (for spoiler reasons, and because I don’t feel like someone’s creative expression warrants a warning as if you’re ordering something off a menu that may contain nuts) it’s clear that many others feel differently, so instead of trying to wrap this up myself (insert condom joke here) I’m going to ask those reading this to wrap it for me (Ps: I’ve never wrapped it #BottomLife)

1.       What is MM to you?
2.       Do you believe that threesomes require warnings in the MM space? (or in fiction in general)
3.       What warnings DO you want in your books? (and what warnings can you think of that you don’t need)
4.       Mayo or Ranch?
5.       What information (if any) do you wish to be disclosed upfront before purchasing an indie book—and would you expect the same from a traditionally published novel?


  1. Unless the blurb was really short and incomplete I don't know how Reader A didn't know it was a threesome. (sometimes the blurbs are confusing even for me)I mean just the names of the MCs mentioned should be a clear indicator how many people are going to be involved in a relationship. In my personal opinion either Reader A was inattentive or didn't read the blurb entirely or the author for whatever reason didn't make the blurb long enough to understand it would be a threesome which really almost never happens. There is always an indicator that it's two or three or more people together. The most obvious would even be the cover and three people on it! So she made a mistake and blamed an author for it and the fact she didn't like the book. Not cool, Reader A! Just my opinion! :-)

  2. 1. The simple answer this is the umbrella term for any book including a romance between two or more men.
    2. I don't think MMM (or MMMM) requires a trigger warning, but I feel like it's a poorly written blurb if it's not clear that there are more than two people in the relationship.
    3. I think trigger warnings are needed for things like sexual assault or self-harm, but only if they are integral to the storyline.
    4. Both
    5. I expect a blurb that gives me an idea of what to expect from the book but not in a spoilerish way. The blurb (which I'm sure is the hardest part of the book) needs to encapsulate the feeling of the book so readers can anticipate the flavor. And yes, I have the same expectations for indie and traditional publishing.

  3. 1. MM is simply male/male relationships. Doesn't need to be romance, fantasy, paranormal, etc. Doesn't mean sex happens, just needs to have the male/male relationship element.
    2 & 3. I'm so glad to see this topic come up because I've been wondering forever why books aren't categorized like movies... E, PG, R, X, etc. Do movies have trigger warnings? I haven't been to a movie in a theater for almost 20 years so I'm not sure how it's done anymore.
    4. Yes, please.
    5. A blurb should include a spoiler free preview of the story. Excerpts are alright but not necessary.

    I think we try to complicate things sometimes and less can be more.

  4. 1. MM means for me a book about a relationship between usually 2 men but I have no problem reading abt three- or moresomes.
    2 & 3. I usually don't need trigger warnings besides perhaps real cruelty as I don't like that even in thrillers - these I would not buy and so I would not like to come across torture or rape for instance without warnings.
    4. Neither!
    5. The blurb could introduce the main characters and perhaps their story before the book starts.

  5. I don't want warnings. I rarely read blurbs. I want to be surprised. I get some may want an MM or MMM or MMF - I think if we throw an F in there, we need some indication, but I don't care about that a lot as a reader. I like Mayo but mustard is better - especially hot mustard
    or horseradish. Isn't it great that people are so different?!? Blurbs should be a short summary that makes you want to read to find out how that's gonna work out. Not too much info. Just enough to get me curious. No labels, no warning. Just make me want to read the book. I want the book to surprise me. I don't want rules and checkboxes. I want something NEW and different. And Pizza. I want pizza. Have a great day!